Europe’s Largest Wind Farm: Built Everywhere But Here

It’s being called the largest onshore wind farm in continental Europe, but the qualifiers appear to be unnecessary. Onshore or off, on the continent or in the United Kingdom, the recently completed Fantanele-Cogealac wind power plant in Romania, with a nameplate capacity of 630 megawatts, is Europe’s largest.

But what caught my eye about this project – in the province of Dobrudja about 10 miles from the Black Sea – wasn’t the size. It was the information contained in a GE press release that touted the company’s role in the project, for which it supplied 240 2.5-MW wind turbines. GE noted that “the individual wind turbine components for the Fantanele/Cogealac wind farm were produced all over the world.” Specifically, GE said, “the turbine nacelles were supplied from GE’s facility in Salzbergen, Germany. The rotor blades and towers came from Germany, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and China.”

Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm, Romania

Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm, Romania (image via CEZ Group)

This made me wonder: What about the United States? So I sent an email to a GE rep asking why there weren’t any U.S.-made components in the Romania project. A spokesperson responded via email:

The majority of times it makes the most sense, both in the US and in other countries where its customers are building wind farms, to manufacture the components locally. Transport costs of blades and towers overseas can be very expensive, so it’s most economical to make them closest to the project site.

Brazil and China don’t really seem “local” when we’re talking about a Romanian wind farm, but it’s hard to argue with the basic rationale here. In fact, a recent paper [PDF] by the U.S. International Trade Commission looking into export opportunities for U.S. wind power manufacturers said that “the large markets in China and the EU … offer very limited export opportunities for U.S. producers, because they are principally supplied by local producers and because many of the firms producing in the United States also have plants in one or both of these markets.”

So the paper instead focused on opportunities in the Americas, and it turns out there’s actually been steady growth in U.S. exports to markets in this hemisphere. According to the report:

U.S. exports of wind‐powered generating sets rose substantially during 2007–11, with Canada and Latin America accounting for the largest share of exports (see charts below). The increase in U.S. exports is driven principally by three factors: the increase in the number of firms producing in the United States and the related growth in U.S. production capacity; growing markets in Canada and Latin America; and the competitiveness of U.S. firms in nearby markets.

image via U.S. International Trade Commission

The report was optimistic that the export growth could continue, particularly to markets in Ontario, western Canada and Mexico. Still, the report said “expectations should remain modest as these markets, though growing, remain small in global context” – making it clear that U.S. wind energy manufacturing is overwhelmingly reliant on having a strong domestic market, one now teetering on the edge of the production tax credit cliff.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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